McCain speaks out hero­ically

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Jay Am­brose

WASH­ING­TON — Once more, John McCain was the hero.

The first hugely no­table time was when his Sky­hawk jet was shot down by a mis­sile over North Viet­nam, he landed with a para­chute in a lake, nearly drowned, was res­cued and bay­o­neted, and stuck in a prison. There, for a pe­riod, he was beaten up mul­ti­ple times daily and fi­nally was told as a pro­pa­ganda move that he could go home, an on­line ac­count re­minds us.

No thanks, he said, un­less ser­vice­men cap­tured be­fore him were re­leased first. That did not hap­pen. He spent more than five years in what was then joc­u­larly called the Hanoi Hil­ton, al­though a Hil­ton it clearly was not.

Here’s a man who will sac­ri­fice him­self for Amer­ica and oth­ers, and this lat­est time he did it shortly after brain surgery. The Repub­li­can sen­a­tor from Ari­zona and for­mer can­di­date for pres­i­dent has brain can­cer. Bed is rec­om­mended at this point, but he scooted to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to cast a vi­tal vote to al­low floor de­bate and ac­tion on health care.

Then he gave a great speech. It was about Se­nate re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at a time when ig­nor­ing them is in fash­ion. While much of it was ob­vi­ous, it took brav­ery to say it and wit and wis­dom to say it so well.

“The suc­cess of the Se­nate is im­por­tant to the con­tin­ued suc­cess of Amer­ica,” he said. “This coun­try — this big, bois­ter­ous, in­tem­per­ate, rest­less, striv­ing, dar­ing, beau­ti­ful, boun­ti­ful, brave, good and mag­nif­i­cent coun­try — needs us to help it thrive. That re­spon­si­bil­ity is more im­por­tant than any of our per­sonal in­ter­ests or po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions.”

What is needed, he said, is col­lab­o­ra­tive, com­pro­mis­ing work for the sake of in­cre­men­tal progress of the kind that has made this na­tion freer, more pros­per­ous and pow­er­ful than any other. We are, he said, a de­fender of the lib­erty and dig­nity of one and all, we have been an “in­spir­ing bea­con” in the world, and much has de­pended on the Se­nate as a solid de­lib­er­a­tive body.

But right now, he warned, sen­a­tors are “more par­ti­san, more tribal more of the time than any time I can re­mem­ber.”

He blamed mem­bers of both par­ties, and did not let him­self off the hook. Cru­cial pro­ce­dures get shoved aside for the sake of se­cret con­niv­ing, he said. Too many too of­ten aim to fur­ther their own in­ter­ests with­out the give and take that works best for the good of all. He con­ceded that he him­self had failed to al­ways act in ac­cor­dance with what the na­tional good has re­quired of him.

It might not be glam­orous or ex­cit­ing, this busi­ness of giv­ing in on one thing or an­other to get at ends ad­van­ta­geous to all, he said. What it amounts to is mud­dling along, never aban­don­ing core prin­ci­ples but look­ing be­yond self and party to hon­est achieve­ment. The re­ward is serv­ing Amer­ica.

McCain’s ear­lier vote helped open the door for floor con­sid­er­a­tion of an Oba­macare reshuf­fle in a Repub­li­can bill he did not like, but health care is a mess, he said, and Oba­macare needs re­vi­sion just as some re­place­ment ideas need re­vi­sion.

What’s sur­pris­ing is that his vote was cru­cial in killing an­other GOP bill that he said fell short on more in­sur­ance com­pany com­pe­ti­tion, low­er­ing costs and im­prov­ing care. If it had passed, there would have been a con­fer­ence with the House, in­clud­ing ad­di­tions and sub­trac­tions that could have an­swered his con­cerns in an­other vote.

But maybe he thought a brand new start was nec­es­sary and it is worth not­ing that his orig­i­nal speech got a stand­ing ova­tion on both sides of the aisle, not just be­cause of what he said, prob­a­bly, but be­cause of who he is, the spe­cial­ness of his three decades in the cham­ber and what he now faces.

Is it pos­si­ble the speech could help lead to grad­ual im­prove­ments?

Maybe, and thanks for that, Sen­a­tor McCain.

Jay Am­brose is an colum­nist for Tri­bune News Ser­vice. Read­ers may email him at speak­to­

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